This poetry project explores the links between 2018 and 1968. Based on Stendhal’s notion of writing twenty lines a day, the poems focus on specific events from 1968 and how they colour our perspective of today. With nuclear proliferation, continuing international conflict, troubled race relations and political scandal, have we really come that far in fifty years?
January 1 1968
The midnight skies were alive with ordnance
and each flare, that flew and blew bright shards out
across the ink’s black, spoke of decadence.
A dance of decades past to cordite shouts.
From the houses all around the sound played
a tattoo of half wondered reverence
as each snare beat and beat and ricocheted.
The brand-new year in all its imminence.
And beneath the alien studded sky,
alone, the lonely dream of lost romance.
The past makes a fitting fire-snapped reply,
leaving memory as sole recompense.
Hearing that bright moment – so long delayed –
just as the night’s fireworks work their echoes,
Narcissus’ Echo finally fades
and fifty years amounts to fifty woes.
Each intervening year that ushered hope
started much like the firework bedazzled
night. In the silent seconds, strung like rope
between the bouncing blasts, we reach for peace.
January 2 1968
The evergreen hedges of Laurel that
guard the gardens of workers, who are told
that they have something to guard and covet,
are laced with festive lights that linger bold
against the cold redundant winter nights.
Commuting, a working man stops his car –
he can stop anywhere; he knows his rights –
at the end of the hedges and looks far
across the vast unyielding frosted fields
as the red sun breaches the defensive
horizon of the east and so he feels
all at once: humbled, burdened and pensive.
His collar turned up against morning cold,
He watches the clouds turn from dark crimson,
to livid blood, to cerise, then to gold.
The day ahead, his crown of laurels on
his head, and beyond the field, copse and hedge,
beyond the grouse and pheasant and the plough,
the magnetic mountain forms the blunt edge
solidarity for his fellow man.
January 3rd 2018
Nurse! Nurse! Nurse? Where the hell are you now that
the proverbial stool sample has hit
the proverbial fan. Quick, check the stats!
Down. Down. It seems that we are only fit
for another crisis. This one’s in bad
shape. I do not think she will even make
it as a bed blocker. It drives me mad
to know of all the good we have at stake.
Amputate from the neck up. Ha! The old
ones, nurse, are the best and seventy years
is pretty old. Take two fingers, here, hold
them down there to take the pressure off. Fears
stick deep where sticking plasters fail to stay.
What’s this? A sign? Do not resuscitate.
By Jove! Some quack has used a tourniquet
around the patient’s neck to strangulate
all good intention. A word to the wise.
They’ve used a newspaper to cauterise
all that’s left behind of the patient’s eyes.
Plan for the crisis then apologise.
January 4th 2018
Beyond the magnetic mountain but in
its shadow, two pebbles, each pockmarked with
hate and heat, rolled downhill, racing to win
a place at the bottom. Neither to live
in the shadow of their foe, so they bounced
to eclipse each other and struggle for
the light. But neither pebble could win nor
reach the glimmering height for which they pounced.
Instead they just raised dust so caustic and
so foul, ground from grated pumice, just-cooled
lava that scarifies the eyes of fools,
corrupts the lungs and coats the mouth with sand.
If each had hands then each would strangle stone,
oblivious to all that they had done.
Both pebbles issued from their aged lips
that they were rebels. Upstarts. Right. Eclipsed,
the red dawn that the worker once saw on
the other side has now completely gone.
Diminished and reduced, instead, to a
flash in the darkness followed by nothing.
January 5 1968
The mother, proud but post-natal, tired and torn,
sat at the side of the white jailhouse cowboy cot
and sighed a stifled smile for her infant newborn.
The father was out, celebrating his white hot
virility with good scotch and better wishes.
Alone, at home, the new mother was not to know
that simple fear for the future diminishes
us all. How, in time, will her newborn baby grow?
Will he be a cowboy with a calcium spur,
brittle, SANE, fit for office, and medically
exempt from the poor’s selective service, yes sir,
but, no, not exempt from golf? Momentarily,
the mother looks at the book, Baby and Child Care.
Despite her well stuck fears, she knows that she knows best
and the justification will be found right there
on page sixty-eight. Spock spoke for the dispossessed
one hundred, two hundred or five hundred thousand.
With no force, and no violence but otherwise
the permissive men and women across the land
proved just too pampered to permit their own demise.
January 6 1968
We’re all going on a charabanc tour
to Blackpool, la, to see the lights and more
and more and more and more of the same. Sure
feels a million miles away from war.
We can dance just like our mothers before
us and trip the light fantastic. The four
of us and you falling through the stage door
and dancing ballroom boredom round the floor.
Fook! No. This one looks like the boy next door
type, all suited up like a matador
or prince charming flinging round his macaw
of a dance partner. Mam calls her a whore
‘cause Da is watching like he’s got lockjaw.
All this just twenty meters form the shore
that laps the sand to sleep. You’ve aged three score
and ten just sitting, waiting for the draw
to pick your lucky number. String vests, flat
caps and southern bowler hats, nothing is real.
We’re all going on a charabanc tour
or perhaps we’ll take a trip instead.
7 January 1968
With chores and roasts and newspapers behind
us. The night draws in and sketches a blurred
picture of Monday morning. We turn blind
eyes to work and utter four letter words
for freedom and its lack, for waking so
early that we beat the dawn to its place,
and bleary eyed and half awake we go
to earn crusts. Your Sunday evening face
can’t hide the horror of what lies ahead.
We don’t talk, or laugh or smile. We just reach
for the listings, turn on the tube instead.
There, in glorious monochrome, we each
turn the dial, looking for something that
will make us smile or at least not just feel
as bad as knowing tomorrow’s diktat
of an alarm awaits us with its creel
to catch the dreams we’d not had time to live.
We slow the evening by not talking.
Twice five is ten. Twice as much just to watch
the same but only not in monochrome.